Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Comic book reviews for the week of November 24th in six sentences (or less)

Best of the Week

Walking Dead #79
Maybe this is the Best of the Week because I’m still riding the high I get from watching this series come to life on my television. Whatever the reason, it was the first thing I popped open when I got back from Ye Olde LCS and I don’t regret it for a second. In this issue the community is still putting trying to put their lives back together after a pathetically failed invasion attempt by another group of survivors. The gunplay from the run-in has attracted a herd of zombies who, unbeknownst to the group, are slowly converging on the neighbourhood. Robert Kirkman mixes up the normally mono-track story telling with a little split screen parallel plotting. It’s a nice change of pace and not normally something we see in this book. Charlie Adlard continues to kill when it comes to pencils. And that’s all she wrote.

Action Comics #895
The first of two entries for writer Paul Cornell this week. Vandal Savage has built an entire city overtop of two Black Lantern energy remnants from THE BLACKEST NIGHT in order to protect them from Lex Luthor. Of course, being Vandal Savage, he has the opportunity to do this hundreds of years before Lex is born and before he knows who he even is. This title continues to be an interesting character examination of one of DC’s premiere super-villains. The character is Lex hardly two dimensional, but after decades of stories on the man I thought there were very few takes on him that hadn’t been previously explored. I’m really enjoying Cornell’s exploration of Lex. He’s muted some of Lex’s cartoony, traditional Super-foil aspects and instead given depth and nuance to a character who is usually immune to both.

Batman and Robin #17
Say what you will about Scott McDaniel, but the guy manages to draw a dynamic, energetic story on a deadline and he makes it look good. I’m convinced that McDaniel doesn’t get the respect he deserves and too often he seems to be the go-to fill artist whenever DC needs to turn something around quickly. Paul Cornell takes the opportunity to do a little world building in the lives of Dick-bats and Robin, putting them on their first proper case unrelated to the events of RIP, FINAL CRISIS and THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE. In this story Dick and Damien are tasked with solving the murder of a casual ex-girlfriend of Bruce. While tracking the killer, why seems to suffer from a very Batman villain like compulsion to leave revealing clues, they stumble across a wedding gone horribly awry. It’s a fun, light read and a good counterpoint to the perpetual Bats-event comic we’ve all been reading for the past 5 years.

Batman: Odyssey #5
Another inscrutable Neal Adams Batman story. At the behest of Deadman Batman begins to investigate sinister goings on at Arkham Asylum. And that’s the best that I can do at crafting a one sentence summary for this title.

I’m still not convinced that there weren’t pages missing from this comic. Seriously, a reader shouldn’t have to work this hard to follow the basic narrative of this story. I had to reread several section of this issue and I’m not 100% sure I know what going on. The storytelling is sloppy and unfocused. And the art, while pretty, sometimes fails to illustrate crucial aspects of what’s happening in a scene. There was one section involving a conversation between Batman and a Deadman-possessed Joker that still has me scratching my head. When your artist and your writer are the same person there’s no excuse for crafting a tale this impenetrable.

Green Arrow #6
There’s something happening in this title that I can’t recall ever happening in a modern Green Arrow story, world building. I’m not just talking about creating new characters and fleshing out someone’s stable of villains. I’m talking about simple things, like creating easily defined visual geographic landmarks, like the unoriginally named Sherwood Forest or the iconic Queen Industries office tower (which is treated by the inhabitants of Star City like its been around YEARS, but I’ve sure as shit never seen it before). Even something simple like giving a GA a typical superhero symbol, a stylized ‘G’ belt buckle in the shape of an arrowhead. It’s all superhero world building 101 and some of DC’s most prominent characters have used it to great effect, sporting landscapes that are nearly as recognizable as they are. More importantly, GA has never, if ever, had these tools in his arsenal. Green is not a trademark, it’s a colour scheme and while it may help to inform his identity visually it lacks the simplistic touchstones we as audience need when identifying the good guys.

They only problem is that seminal characters like Superman and Batman have had years to build up these trademarks. Green Arrow titles seem to get re-booted on a semi-annual basis and each new direction is perpendicular to the one that preceded it.

Ultimate Spider-man #150
With this issue Spider-man goes back to his new/old title and numbering. It’s a fairly standard anniversary style issue, complete with the requisite new direction for the character that is often touted during these kinds of milestones. Various characters ruminate on their first meeting with Spider-man and reflect on his nature and character. Peter reflects on the true nature of what it means to be a hero. It’s all pretty standard stuff, but it’s well done so I’m not going to complain. It was nice to see a couple pages from Mark Bagley in this issue, especially considering I thought he was still exclusive to DC. For the longest time Bags take on Ultimate Spidey was so synonymous with the character it was hard to imagine anyone else drawing him and I thought it was really classy of DC to let him do these pages. (If in fact he’s still exclusive)

I’m also not going to get into the changes the Ultimate Universe has been through lately. I’ve seen that analysed in greater depth and with more intelligence then I can offer. Bottom line, in recent years the bloom has definitely come off the rose. The Ultimate line used to be synonymous with fresh takes on classic Marvel characters, unencumbered by the stifling shackles of continuity. Only after ten years it’s inevitable that the Ultimate Universe’s own continuity and publishing mis-steps have robbed the imprint of a lot of its vitality. Only Spider-man seems to have bucked this trend. Given the drop off in numbers for the Ultimate titles I have to wonder how long Marvel will choose to keep this imprint going. I think, if anything, the Ultimate Universe was a victim of its own success, with its greatest ideas and triumphs co-opted by the regular Marvel 616. Either way, whatever its fate, it was an interesting undertaking and one that I think helped revitalize the Marvel U.

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